The wealth gap starts here

When I look back at how I grew up, when I grew up and how I witnessed the form that personal finance took in my life and the lives of my parents and other family members, it is crystal clear to me where we have a cultural problem that starts at a young age. Speaking as a Gen-Xer who graduated from high school in 1993, I look back at all of my public schooling during K-12, trying to remember when and to what degree we were taught about finance. Other than the basics about currency, the different between a nickel and a dime, and the fact that you can create what’s called a “bank account” where you deposit money into for later use…that was pretty much it.

In my opinion the existence of the modern day American wealth gap, infused with racism and classism, was also inflamed by the lack of prioritization of teaching ALL kids about personal finance at a very young age. We teach them math. We teach kids science. We put them into sports programs or music class. The problem however is that, unless their parents are raising them as entrepreneurs and savvy business professionals from a young age, young adults get out into the real world without hardly any skills or understanding of personal finance, why it’s important to save, and how you can save while making hardly any money before life starts handing you a bunch of bills.

America loves to tell it’s children to pick a major and a minor and 4 year university you want to go to…an over-priced place to forge this one-dimensional chosen path for tens of thousands of dollars per semester. We hardly tell our kids how to manage money for the short and long term but if they were at a financial disadvantage out of the gate, let’s make it worse by encouraging them to start off adulthood in the hole. The American dream means choose one of these big academically heavy topics that require a ton of schooling, go into debt getting said education, then go out into the real world and find a relevant job, not making much money. We encourage them to start their adult lives without any concept of how to manage personal finance, factoring in retirement, how to always save while still “living your best life,” living on your own and making and spending money. “Have fun you are only young once!” they said.

I look back at my own education and after arriving horrendously late to the “how to save for retirement” party, learning about Roth IRA’s, 401ks, short and long term investing in real estate, how to forecast growth and hunt for opportunities where no one else is looking, it’s apparent most of us graduate high school clueless and knowledge poor because MOST of us do not have wealthy or even middle class parents. Many of us stay financially struggling as a result of our financial un-education. Recently, like a bomb dropping on top of my head during a personal inflection point, I realized that the lack of required financial education in our public school curriculums is a big problem in this country, much bigger a topic than we make it out to be.

You know why we talk about the 1%’ers? They have an education about how money works and flows through our economy in ways that only a privileged few get.

Now, I take zero issue with the wealthy. I only take issue with wealthy assholes. In American public schools K-12, the importance of saving, proactively researching investment opportunities and techniques, why it is even important to do so, and how we are all going to get old and disabled and will need financial help….these topics are just never focused on in public education more than in a one off elective extra credit class in high school, at least when I was in the system. Historically if we did, there might not even be the 1%ers living on billionaire island today… could’ve have been more like the 10%, 25% or 50%’ers instead! More wealth for more of the population and a better understanding of how money works for all of our generations, regardless of their socio-economic status or whether or not they went to an Ivy League school.

I feel like if I had a different financial educational reality in school, even though my home life was tense and messed up (with most stress revolving around money issues), I might have had a shot at saving more money, putting myself through college or early retirement. There may have a been a chance that me and millions of other Americans may have looked at money differently than my dad and many other dads out there. His addictive and impulsive personality was plagued by a craving for burning holes in pockets. His financial mantra was “just got paid, now spend it all on material indulgent horseshit and savor it because you are about to starve and hate life until the next paycheck.” It was a hamster wheel of broken dreams that never stopped.

I also feel like if more of us got a better education in the financial department every single year during our public school tenure, the American economy in general might be a bit more balanced, with a much smaller wealth gap.

Teach your kids YOUNG about the importance of saving. Make sure they’re taking classes on investment and economics. Be mindful about today’s kids pension for hasty wasteful consumerism and empty wallets driven by social media influencers and advertising. If personal finance is not being taught in school at a deeper level than “1 dollar + 1 dollar = 2 dollars” then you have to get them on a track where they understand why you shouldn’t just spend ALL of your money on sodas and snacks and video games and whatever is tasty at the gas station when they walk there after school.

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